Russia is using Donald Trump's own words against him

Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken a page out of President Donald Trump’s playbook by questioning the reliability of U.S. intelligence reports about chemical weapons usage in Syria. 

The Trump administration has tried to force Moscow’s hand with U.S. spy reports about chemical weapons being used in by the Assad regime. It also used them to justify recent missile strikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s military bases.

“It reminds me of the events in 2003 when U.S. envoys to the Security Council were demonstrating what they said were chemical weapons found in Iraq,” Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters on Tuesday, in response to U.S. agencies blaming Syria’s government for using chemical weapons. “We have seen it all already.”

The Bush administration used false intelligence reports that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons and weapons of mass destruction to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Some lawmakers and pundits, however, accused the Bush administration — not the intelligence community — of exaggerating the reports. 

Trump used the same rationale in December to question intelligence reports that Russia had interfered with the 2016 election. “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” he said. 

Trump later supported WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s statements claiming that Russia did not help WikiLeaks. 

Trump has also accused intelligence agencies of leaking information about his associates’ connections to Moscow, and blamed them for allowing an unverified dossier to be leaked. But he also blamed the media for the rift between him and the intelligence communities. 

Trump’s rocky relationship with his own intelligence community has seemingly come back to bite him, as the Russian government has taken to using his own words to respond to US accusations. It’s also not the first time the tactic has been used. On the campaign trail, Trump cited a fake news story about a terror attack in Turkey, repeatedly questioned the credibility of the US electoral process, and dismissed hacking attempts of the Democrats attributed to Russia — themes that were often echoed by Russian media.

“Part of the reason active measures have worked in this U.S. election is because the commander-in-chief has used Russian active measures, at times, against his opponents,” Clint Watts, a former FBI agent who has researched Russian information warfare, told the Senate recently.

The U.S. has accused Russia of knowing about the chemical weapons attack and trying to cover it up. At the same time, Putin alleged that the U.S. framed Assad, and that the U.S. is planning more “false flag” chemical attacks in the suburbs of Damascus.

Still, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said there could be “no doubt” that Assad’s troops were behind the attack, and autopsies have showed that sarin gas was used. 

Russia has instead argued that the Syrian air force carried out a conventional attack that hit a chemical weapons cache controlled by the rebels. However, as chemical weapons expert Dan Kaszeta told Bellingcat, sarin in storage consists of unmixed components, and dropping a bomb on them would not turn them into a nerve agent.

“It is an infantile argument,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, Trump said Wednesday that the U.S. would not intervene further in Syria, while Putin said that relations with the Trump administration have “degraded.”

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